At least $5.2 million paid out to victims of priests in Pittsburgh, Greensburg dioceses
Victims of alleged sexual abuse at the hands of priests in the Pittsburgh and Greensburg dioceses received at least $5.2 million in settlements, money for counseling, therapists and to cover other pain and expenses, a Tribune-Review analysis of the grand jury report found.
The money sometimes came with the requirement of silence.
“These settlements contained confidentiality agreements forbidding victims from speaking about the abuse under threat of some penalty, such as legal action to recover previously paid settlement monies,” the grand jury report stated.
The millions of dollars included:
• A $1.25 million fund established by the Catholic Diocese of Pittsburgh in 2007 to settle 32 lawsuit alleging abuse or injury by priests.
• $2.7 million paid by church insurers in a settlement involving a priest who raped a 13-year-old girl in Baltimore while she was recovering from surgery. The priest later was transferred to parishes in Rochester and Pittsburgh’s Brookline neighborhood.
• Nearly $500,000 paid to settle claims against a priest who served at parishes in New Kensington, Murrysville and Latrobe.
Victims of priests in the Greensburg diocese received at least $667,711, according to information contained in the grand jury report. Victims of priests in the Pittsburgh diocese received $4.6 million.
Richard Serbin, an Altoona attorney who has represented nearly 300 victims of sexual abuse by priests in Pennsylvania, said no amount of money can make up for trauma that ruins your life and tarnishes memories of your childhood. But for some of his victims, winning a settlement, even a small one, was important.
“It was some vindication that they were believed,” Serbin said.
Diocese officials across the state, however, shared advice on how to shield their dioceses from settlements. The Erie diocese sent to the Scranton diocese a letter from an Erie law firm on how to insulate their assets from a large judgment in a sex abuse case. The letter, included in the grand jury report, noted that insurance companies covering the dioceses had “withdrawn coverage for liabilities” related to sex abuse cases.
The letter, written in 1991 and signed by John M. Quinn Sr., an attorney at Quinn, Gent, Buseck & Leemhuis Inc., recommended that the Erie diocese reorganize into several corporations assigned to handle specific operations of the church and that charitable trusts be established to shield assets from legal judgments.
The corporations would create a “corporate veil” which the courts will not pierce “to satisfy a plaintiff’s judgment in a Pedophile case,” the letter stated. The charitable trusts “could well protect even the parish assets.”
Quinn recommended this reorganization be discussed at a Diocesan Attorney’s meeting, “because of the concern all of us have about the results of this type of litigation on our dioceses.” An attorney reached Thursday at the law firm directed all questions to the Erie diocese. A phone call to the diocese’s director of communications Thursday was not returned.
“At that time, scores of predatory priests were still in active ministry in the dioceses of Pennsylvania,” the grand jury report stated.
Serbin, whose clients included victims of 22 priests from the Pittsburgh diocese and two priests from the Greensburg diocese, said church officials knew how to manipulate a victim or game the system to civil settlements at a minimum. If a victim came forward to the church, officials often would try to delay word reaching the police or other authorities until the statute of limitations ran out, Serbin said.
“They were very sophisticated as to the laws — the civil laws as well as the criminal — to circumvent any hope for justice the victim might have,” Serbin said.
Settlements in cases where the civil statute of limitations had ran often ranged from tens of thousands of dollars to hundreds of thousands. Settlements within the time frame could reach into the millions.
In the Greensburg diocese, at least five victims accused Father Dennis Dellamalva of sexual abuse in the 1970s and 1980s. Dellamalva was at Mt. St. Peter in New Kensington from 1975 to 1977, then moved to Mother of Sorrows in Murrysville. In 1982, he was at Holy Family in Latrobe before taking a leave of absence in 1983.
Father Denny, as he was known, fondled and touched young boys at church, in their own homes, on family trips to places like Seven Springs Ski Resort and Rehoboth Beach in Delaware, and on church retreats, the report alleged. One victim accused Dellamalva of giving him oral sex. Dellamalva, who died in 1994, admitted to some of the abuse.
Five victims sued Dellamalva. Three won a collective settlement of $375,000. Two other won individual settlements of $25,000, the grand jury report stated.
The Pittsburgh diocese became embroiled in the scandal surrounding Rev. Richard Deakin. Deakin began sexually abusing a 13-year-old in 1985 and 1986 while he served at St. Martin, a parish in Baltimore, according to the report. The rapes continued when Deakin was transferred to St. Cecilia in Rochester.
Deakin became close to the girl as she recovered from a serious surgery to remove a tumor from her chest, the grand jury report stated. The abuse, which “progressed from occasional playful contact to kissing and petting to sexual intercourse,” according to the report, continued for two years.
Deakin was arrested in 1990, pleaded guilty to charges of second-degree rape and sexual abuse of a child and was sentenced to a 15-year suspended prison sentence and five years of probation. In 1993, the church settled with the victim and her family. The terms of the settlement were not released at the time. The grand jury report indicated the lawsuit was settled for $2.7 million. Reports from the time of the lawsuit stated church insurers paid the settlement.
In 2007, the Pittsburgh diocese created a $1.25 million fund to settle lawsuits of alleged abuse. Alan Perer, a Pittsburgh attorney who represented some of the victims in those cases, said at the time that the money didn’t fully compensate the victims. Perer could not be reached Thursday. Serbin also represented victims in that settlement and said the cases were outside the statute of limitations and the individual payouts to victims were low.
Victims also received money from the church to cover the cost of therapists, counseling sessions and drug abuse treatment. A victim of Father Richard J. Dorsch of the Pittsburgh diocese committed suicide in 2010, two months after the Pittsburgh diocese stopped paying for his mental health treatment. A victim of Father Gregory Flohr of the Greensburg diocese received $51,163 for more than 100 therapy sessions, eight hospitalizations and for medications.
The Greensburg diocese noted that this was out of the ordinary.
“It is not now, or ever has been the policy of the Diocese of Greensburg to provide financial support for hospitalization, direct medical treatment or medications,” the diocese said, according to the report. “We extended such coverage to you only after the fact of your multiple emergency treatments, and as an act of Christian charity in your dire need.”
A victim of Rev. John S. Hoehl received a check from the Pittsburgh diocese for $10,000 “as a pastoral gesture for the financial difficulties he had experienced,” according to the grand jury report. One of Hoehl’s victims was a client of Serbin’s. He called the priest a serial child molester.
Editor’s note: This story has been updated to reflect that Altoona attorney Richard Serbin often worked on cases where the civil statute of limitations had run out.
Staff write Deb Erdley contributed to this report. Aaron Aupperlee is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Aaron at 412-336-8448, [email protected] or via Twitter @tinynotebook.